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A community tradition will offer 1,000 people a Thanksgiving dinner

E.I. Hillin / Red Dirt Report
From left, Aly Branstetter and Mary Arbuckle take a look at some of the turkeys and hams they will serve on Thanksgiving. For the 17th year, Other Options will collaborate with community leaders to serve Thanksgiving dinner to those in need.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Seventeen years ago, Averil “Cookie” Arbuckle recognized a need in her community and decided to do something about it. With the help of local community members, Arbuckle was able to feed 35 people a free Thanksgiving dinner.

This year Cookie’s legacy will be passed on in a tremendous way. The goal is to feed 1,000 people a made-from-scratch meal on Thanksgiving Day, not to mention enough for leftovers.

After Cookie Arbuckle, founder of Other Options, Inc. died, her daughter Mary Arbuckle stepped up to continue the work that has come to be known as “Cookie’s Thanksgiving.” Other Options, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization serving people infected with HIV and AIDS. It also provides a resource center for those affected by the disease including children and caretakers.

The daunting task of feeding 1,000 will take the help of hundreds of volunteers, thousands of dollars in donations, and a whole lot of love. Mary Arbuckle, Other Options Executive Director, said last year they were able to deliver 750 meals by making 261 stops.

Each person receiving a “Cookie’s Thanksgiving” meal will have a traditional made-from-scratch dinner including one pound of turkey, one pound of ham, plenty of side dishes and a one-of-a-kind cranberry sauce made by Sunnyside Diner.

The goal increased to 1,000 meals with the help of the locally owned Sunnyside Diner. Aly Branstetter, co-owner, said she and business partner Shannon Roper wanted to feed people on Thanksgiving Day. Instead of starting something completely new, Branstetter decided to reach out to Arbuckle.

“After a couple text messages, we decided to feed 1,000 people together,” she said.

The bulk of the meals, 750, will be delivered by volunteers. The remaining 250 meals will be served at Sunnyside Diner to low-to-no income homeless with the help of the Spero Project.  Branstetter said the community collaboration has been remarkable.

“Everyone has reached out to be a part of this in the way the can,” Branstetter said.

From left, Mary Arbuckle, Executive Director of Other Options, Inc., Averil “Cookie” Arbuckle founder of Other Options, Inc., and local chef Robert Painter smile for a photo in 2009. 

The amount it cost to feed each person is approximately $6.67. Arbuckle said some people can only afford to donate that much, but that means one person gets a delicious Thanksgiving meal. More than that, they get the opportunity to interact with others in the process.

While many deliveries go to families, there are some who go to a single individual. Arbuckle said she recalls last year 80 single adults were delivered meals.

“So 80 people had no place to go, no one to have Thanksgiving to join in with, and that delivery was the only person they would see that day,” Arbuckle said. “That is an impact in itself.”

More than 300 volunteers have signed up help. Head Country Bar-B-Q will smoke the turkeys, Ben E. Keith will donate food and offer a refrigerated truck, and four local chefs will give their time to make the event a success.

To make a donation or find out more information about Cookie’s Thanksgiving, visit “Cookie’s Thanksgiving” Facebook page or go to

Photos provided.

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E.I. Hillin

Elizabeth Ivy Hillin, 30, grew up in Lindsay, Okla., where the dirt is definitely red. Hillin...

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